Pranks can be dangerous. I present a cautionary tale.
The attacks rained down on Quinpool Town Centre. Crude projectiles hurtled through the air, cannons were launched from speedboats in the lakefront. It was merciless, and seemingly endless. Fiery barrels raining down on public streets, crossbow bolts thwacking into terrified citizens, cars with snow plows chained to the front smashing through drugstores and family restaurants… you name the type of makeshift destruction, it was happening. And didn’t cease until the town was in ruins. A similar scene, with the aggressor-victim roles reversed, played out just eight kilometres away in Waterton.
When the dust settled, both the literal dust from all the explosions, and the figurative dust of the chaos and confusion, one thing was clear: the prank war between Quinpool’s recently-elected Mayor Carl Murphy, and long-time city administrator Alfred Dunham, mayor of neighboring Waterton, had escalated. And the results were nothing short of an absolute catastrophe.
What had started as a simple Ordnance Restriction Bait-and-Switch (one of Mayor Murphy’s first acts in office) had escalated gently at first. Murphy’s sense of humour had allowed him to become one of the town’s most powerful citizens, and his popularity and bonhomie had seen him swept into office unopposed, after Quinpool’s previous mayor, Joanne Turner, had passed away peacefully the previous summer. The bait-and-switch was deemed clever, and created a considerable headache at Waterton City Hall, much to the delight of Quinpool’s civic inner circle. Murphy never copped to the prank, and when pressed on the matter, only stroked his moustache and chuckled, saying “Waterton’s got themselves a real ten dollar pickle with that Ordnance snafu, now.”
The retribution had been served cold, six weeks to the day later. A zoning deregulation for an amusement park, filed by a farmer who turned out to be non-existent. It was flawlessly executed, likely using a contact within the city Outdoor Spaces Department, then leaked to the local paper. It caused at first a general hub-bub, which then became a fever, as the Quinpool rumour mill went into hyper speed. There was considerable disappointment when it was discovered that no amusement park was forthcoming. The town took it hard.
There was no question that, despite his largely ceremonial role, Waterton Mayor Alfred Dunham could give as good as he got in the pranking department. He of course publicly professed innocence, but behind closed doors he allegedly couldn’t stop crowing about the ‘incident’.
In any case, each mayor subsequently called out his rival joshingly. Yes, there’s no doubt about the adjective: it was joshing, pure and simple. A joviality, a delightful sense of mutual mischief to it all. Gauntlets had been thrown down, and questions had been asked, and answered. And the by-product of this rivalry was an increased sense of civic pride in each of the municipalities, which sat side by side in the picturesque Oswegon Valley.
That autumn, as luck would have it, their sports teams met in the Junior Regional finals, a friendly wager was made: Should Quinpool’s Wailing Banshees prevail over the Waterton Karates in the best of seven series, there would be a baker’s dozen of gluten-free vanilla cupcakes (From the Waterton Cupcakery) and two pounds of Indonesian Whole Bean coffee delivered to Mayor Murphy, along with a capitulation notice.
However, should the Karate’s take the Regional Title, two dozen Dalston Pub Spicy Hot Hell Wings and a six-pack of Cole Porter IPA (from the same establishment) would be delivered to Mayor Dunham’s office. “Let’s see if he can eat them wings. They’re some kinda hot,” Murphy remarked.
The Banshees did indeed win by a series score of 4-1, with the Karates never really threatening. And so the cupcakes and the coffee came, and were consumed. That should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. It was only the beginning.
What prompted Mayor Murphy to send the wings and beer anyway? He was under no obligation: in gambling, no winner pays a debt to the loser. It could charitably be viewed as good sportsmanship, less charitably as mindless cruelty. Or perhaps it was merely a keen advocacy of the Dalston Pub’s Hell Wings? Nobody knew. And Murphy himself never said.
Neither Dunham, nor his city council, nor the municipal administrators were impressed by the gesture. They had lost, they didn’t deserve these – what were they – pity wings? Both items were promptly sent back to Quinpool. A keen-eyed young reporter wrote a short article (her first under her own byline) in the Waterton Post-Herald. It caught the attention of some civic groups, who didn’t appreciate what they saw as gloating.
But Mayor Murphy himself laughed it off. Saying it was all in good fun. That should have been it. And it would be merely a sour note at the end of a good rivalry. But of course it wasn’t.
WINGS AND BEER FOR A YEAR
As Mayor Murphy sat at home, looking at the wings and six pack that had been returned, he wondered how to handle the next step of this back-and-forth. And then he got an idea that he couldn’t shake: why not keep sending those damn wings over and over again, see what happens? Yes, that was the way forward! Keep going until they get sick of sending them back; doubling down on a questionable idea.
For nearly three weeks the chicken wings and six-packs arrived at Waterton City Hall. In the morning, or in the afternoon, or in the evening. On the doorstep first thing in the morning, or waiting on the hood of Mayor Dunham’s car at the end of the day. Some copycats got in on the action, and soon there were three or more deliveries per day. Each more annoying than the last.
Finally, Waterton City Hall held an emergency meeting? Should they capitulate and eat the wings, drink the beers? No! By common consent that was unthinkable. It was a matter of pride. Anyone caught eating wings would be banished, insofar as that was possible. And how could they respond? After a lenghty and heated closed door meeting, the Watertonians decided to send a dozen long stemmed roses to every staff member of Quinpool City Hall. Janitors, middle managers, interns, nobody was left out.
The action was immediately regretted. It didn’t send the right message, not at all. So they switched tactics, and that weekend, under the cover of night, and breaking no fewer than five federal laws, a rogue faction of Waterton City Hall filled Mayor Murphy’s office with homemade falafel balls. It was discovered on Monday morning. On Monday evening, Mayor Murphy hosted a falafel-eating contest for the Sick Kids Wing of the Oswegon Regional Hospital.
This calculated act of civic-minded largesse incensed the more radical residents of Waterton. And escalation came quickly. On Wednesday night just before dawn, an unfamiliar dump truck was seen leaving Rosedale Avenue. When Mayor Murphy left for work that morning, he discovered his dark green Mazda Miata had been filled with chicken innards, irreparably staining the upholstery, and, due to the persistent and overwhelming smell, effectively ruining the car.
TOO FAR IS NOT FAR ENOUGH
It was here that the tone changed yet again. While it had always seemed a one-sided prank war, with Waterton holding the upper hand throughout, once it escalated, pointing out a definitive aggressor became all but impossible. But, though skirmishes flared up and chiken wings and gluten-free cupcakes were hurled, and many fingers were pointed, it all seemed as if it might eventually just peter out. And then came the Molotov Cocktails. Well, first came the brick through the front window of The Waterton Public Library, then came the Molotov Cocktail.
A crude weapon, the Molotov Cocktail, but effective. Though the library wasn’t completely burned, the damage was widespread, with the large-print books the hardest hit. Retribution was swift: within the hour the Quinpool Fire Station was itself on fire, the victim of a barrage of Molotov Cocktails. From a strategic point of view, what became known as ‘the Molotov Incident’ effectively widened the parameters of the prank war, removing the ‘prank’ from the title, and each side went further, racing one another to do more damage.
It seemed at the time that a gunfight between both police departments was a logical next step. Almost an inevitability. But as it led to the mutual destruction of the forces of law and order, it seemed to be the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end. Though the police departments had tried without much success to dampen down the worst of the violence, once they themselves engaged in an early morning battle, it all but extinguished the possibility of de-escalation. Within two weeks most of the townspeople on both sides were dead or had fled, and the two cities were by all accounts ruined remnants of their former pristine glory. Which brings us to the present.
Mayor Dunham waited at the Sunoco, surveying the smoking wreckage of these once idylllic neighboring towns. The burned out gas station, approximately equidistant between Quinpool and Waterton, had once been a landmark for families looking to go swimming or boating on Newton Lake. Now it was little more than a testament to unchecked pranks and seething municipal hatred. He saw Murphy’s Miata come along the highway, at about the same time as he smelled the fetid stench of rotting chicken guts, or at least imagined that he did.
Now was the time to stop the madness. The pranks had gone too far, had slipped into a terrible and unfunny war that had torn towns and families asunder. The toll on both side was great, it was time for peace. He bowed his head, staring at his shredded trousers and scuffed shoes.
Mayor Murphy eyed the six pack of Cole Porter IPA, the basket of chicken wings, and the loaded handgun on the passenger seat of his Miata, and gunned the engine. He raced towards the Sunoco, ready to put an end to this madness, once and for all.